On the first day of my social and political philosophy class, I walked into the scattered circle of desks and felt immediately exposed. This guy watched me walk in, sit down, and pull out my binder. His eyes ran over my body and then fixed on me while I tried to chat casually with someone else.
Now I should point out that I was not entirely uncomfortable. Maybe I was indignant—it was crass. But there were other girls in the room, and he was looking at me.
That is, he was looking at me until there was a better option, which is inevitable; there is always a better option.
She was tall, thin, and white with a tight, short hair cut. Normal brown hair, but with a build like Seven of Nine from Star Trek, only she had smaller breasts. She was wearing three-inch, chunky heels, a collared black button-up, black slacks and vivid raspberry-bright lipstick.
Lipstick has always been hard for me.
He practically jumped as she passed through his field of vision. Eyes scanned down, up, locked-in, mouth open like a paralyzed fish. I smiled, leaned over to the girl I’d been talking to, “At least we’re not getting ogled…” She looked up, hesitant, and said, “Huh, yeah.”
I don’t think she had any idea what I was talking about.
This other woman was brilliantly cool looking. Her eyes were so blue that I imagined her blonde when she wasn’t right there for me to see in brunette reality.
And she was the T.A. She led a class discussion a few weeks later. Mostly she was silent in class, gazing over us, smiling serenely at particularly pertinent comments, or smiling serenely because the comment was inane and, yes, she recognized inane. She always seemed cool, detached, and maybe a little like she was over-compensating—she did look like a student. When the professor was gone, she sat in front of us, spine vertical, bottom on the edge of her seat and our questions, written on note cards, clasped firmly.
Even though she did speak on occasion and it really shouldn’t have come as a shock, her voice always surprised me. At first I thought it reminded me of a line from the Cake song, Short Skirt, Long Jacket. It goes; “With fingernails that shine like justice and a voice that is dark like tinted glass.” Except that her voice wasn’t dark. It was reflective and shiny, more like broken glass. It ricocheted out, too loud, maybe insecure?
In the same song, the singer wishes for a girl with “shoes that cut and eyes that burn cigarettes.” I felt like I had met the real version of the girl who Cake wanted—the one who is not perfect, but looks like she might be.
I thought she was stunning, even as the disparity between her voice and appearance was unsettling. It was the way you might feel when you meet someone and have an uncanny sense of what her name should be, only to discover it’s something entirely different, something essentially grating to her character or presence. In this case, she was the kind of woman who defines fly for white people, but then she sounded like an over-achieving high school student; “Well, actually, I think…”
Maybe it was a little disappointing?
The boy from the first day dropped the class. He stayed after to talk to the professor, though, and managed to ask me where my shawl was from. I acted bitchier than I am, and smiled really coolly. Then I said it was from Chile. He liked it; I said, “Oh, thanks.”